UniServe Science News Volume 9 March 1998


VisChem: Visualising the Molecular World

Rowan Hollingworth, Division of Chemistry, University of New England

Recent advances in computer graphics are now providing teachers of chemistry with a new standard of teaching resources, which can fundamentally change the way students gain an understanding of atoms, molecules and their physical and chemical behaviour. Students need to be able to operate effectively at three levels - the laboratory, molecular and symbolic levels, to construct a meaningful understanding of basic molecular concepts. Educational research indicates many students have great difficulty in making adequate connections between these levels, which imposes a significant block to their deeper learning of chemistry.

The VisChem project aims to produce multimedia resources explicitly linking these levels to assist students build accurate mental models and overcome misconceptions. The materials produced contain highly detailed 3D animations of processes at the molecular level. With repeated, careful and guided viewings of these animations, students can start to build up more meaningful mental models of molecular processes and to make the important links to chemistry at the laboratory level. To date the project has produced videos of water in its different physical states and undergoing phase changes; the processes of dissolving, precipitation and complexation in water; ionic equilibria, acid base and redox chemistry; and an interactive CAL interface for studying these topics. The CD-ROM under review (beta version) is a resource bank of all these materials on disk.

The Beta version disk under review came with no other documentation, so no comments can be made about what may accompany it on release. Teaching notes for the videos have been excellent in their scope and detail. Testing on a Macintosh Performa 5200CD with 16Mb RAM presented no problems whatsoever. Double clicking the 'VisCmac.Go' icon started the program, navigation through the disk was obvious and I never experienced any crashes. The disk contains 23 information screens describing the VisChem Project and the intended uses of the materials on the disk. These include: producing teaching resources, lecture slide and computer presentations, assessment and student group work. The main contents of the disk are the multitude of QuickTime animations including all the topics mentioned above. These provide a wealth of opportunities for use by the teacher in developing their materials and assisting their students learning.

With this resource and similar items from other like initiatives around the world, the teaching of chemistry can indeed make some bold steps forward.

VisChem is available from:
ICV International Pty Ltd
Tel: (03) 9348 2199 OR
Video Education Australia
Tel: 1800 034 282

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UniServe Science News Volume 9 March 1998

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